I’m not sure what got to me the most. Maybe it was the sound of him gasping for air or the grimace of pain on his face every time he coughed. It could have been how brave he was trying to be or my relief that the hives caused by his meds were finally going away. It honestly could have been so many things. But, whatever is was, the bedtime story I was reading to him had become wet with my tears.
His coughing fit brought my husband down to check on him. He walked into my son’s room holding my 21 month old. Before he was all the way in the room he asked, “Are you ok buddy?” My sweet little boy sat next to me on his bed breathing hard trying to catch his breath. In between coughing fits he answered my husband in his biggest most convincing voice, “Don’t worry daddy, I’m big and strong like you. I’m fine.” This simple statement overwhelmed me. His mismatched shark pyjama pants and T-Rex shirt exemplified the indecision of a little boy. However, when he spoke, his words sounded so big. It seemed wrong to hear so much resolve from someone so young.
I knew how badly he hurt and how scared he really was. Yet he refused to let it slow him down and was determined not to show any fear. I ached for him that he so desperately wanted to be as brave and strong as a grown man rather than enjoying the short time that life would be pure and carefree. It made me sad he was facing such grown up issues. It made me long for the “normal” childhood he would never have.
I try hard not to break down in front of him, but the cold hard truth is I was consumed with fear. I was scared his lungs were being damaged from years of aspirating acid. I was scared of what it would mean long term. I was scared it would be permanent. My reaction to his attempted bravery caught me by surprise. So I sat on his bed holding a book about friendship and sobbed. It took my son maybe ten seconds to react. He crawled into my lap and hugged me tightly. He put his head on my shoulder and did his best to make me feel better. His words of comfort only heightened my emotions, “It’s ok mommy. It’ll be ok. I’m here with you.”
I was flooded with guilt. He was the one in pain. He was the one struggling to breath. He was the one going through it all. And yet he was the one comforting me. It felt selfish. The inequity of it hurt my heart even more. “Why are you so much braver than me?” I asked as I hugged him back. He looked up at me and smiled wiping my tears like a parent does with their child. His answer was unexpected. But it rang with a truth and perspective that will stay with me forever, “I’m not braver than you mommy. We just take turns being brave. We are bravest together.” With that my little boy kissed my cheek and handed my husband the book that was sitting in my lap. “Here daddy,” he said “read this for mommy.”
My husband sat on my son’s bed still holding the baby. Together the four of us read the story about the elephant who needed help from his friends. It would be three days later that confirmation of lung damage would come. But that night, as I laid down and held my little boy while he fell asleep, I already knew the result. It was apparent in his inability to breath without coughing or pain. My gut knew the news was not going to be good. All I could do was lie there and hold him. So that’s what I did.
When I woke up the next morning, my little boy was still in my arms. He was still coughing and whimpering from pain in his sleep. I knew today he would need me to be strong for him. Today it was my turn to be brave.